By Aaron West

The Bulletin

There’s a battle between skydivers and homeowners in Sisters these days, a “not in my backyard” fight that is taking place 10,000 feet above the ground.

The residents, who mostly live in neighborhoods around Sisters Eagle Airport, have organized to form Save Our Skies, a citizen group whose goal is to stop a local skydiving outfit, Skydive Awesome! The group’s 120 members, according to its website, believe the increased air traffic and noise that skydiving brings to the area is disrupting their rural ambiance.

“I don’t think anybody is opposed to maintaining the airport, but the recent recreational uses will severely impact the neighborhoods and the quality of life that we live here for,” said SOS member Karen Hulbert. “This isn’t the right airport for them.”

The co-owners of Skydive Awesome!, Cara and Stephen Rosier, say the citizen group is acting unreasonably. Instead of working out a compromise, the group has resorted to simply trying to shut down their skydiving operation, the Rosiers say.

Skydive Awesome! opened last spring and oversaw more than 1,000 tandem and solo jumps between March and November.

It’s a classic case of NIMBYism, Cara Rosier said, except for one thing: The backyard includes a privately owned, public-use airport.

“It’s a public airport, and the skydivers happen to be the newest commercial entity operating there, but complaints and hatred have surrounded changes at the airport well before we arrived,” she said. “We’re shocked that (SOS) would spend so much time and energy on this.” Indeed, the group’s efforts to derail Skydive Awesome! operations vary.

• There are the numerous letters to the editor that concerned citizens have written to The Nugget, Sisters’ weekly newspaper, since last summer.

• Public comment during city council meetings and a recent Oregon Department of Aviation hearing have also provided a platform for opposition.

• And dozens of calls and written complaints have been received by Sisters and Deschutes County officials.

“I’ve never gotten so many emails,” said Sisters’ Interim City Manager Rick Allen, pointing to a message he received from Sisters resident Stephen Poss on Feb. 23.

“While we support local airports and flying by responsible pilots,” the letter begins, “the operations of Sisters Eagle Airport have recently expanded and threaten to further expand in ways that in my opinion cause critical harm and diminish the Sisters community and the entire county… .”

There’s also “the investigation,” as Hulbert put it, that Save Our Skies is conducting into what legal and administrative obstacles it can use to stop Skydive Awesome!. Hulbert said the group is looking into permitting rules, aviation and skydiving statutes at all levels of government and a 40-year-old deed that spells out permitted land use at airport.

“Ideally, (Skydive Awesome!) would not exist,” she said, noting SOS has hired an attorney to help and legal action isn’t out of the question.

“I don’t think any options are off the table,” she said.

So far, the citizens group hasn’t been able to stop the skydivers even after discovering last summer that Skydive Awesome! doesn’t have the proper permits to allow customers to touch down on their landing zone — private, off-airport property.

And time could be running out for the members of Save Our Skies. For one thing, Skydive Awesome! will start the post-winter skydiving season next month, and the company is already advertising.

But Stephen Rosier said he isn’t sure if he wants to get the permits that would allow skydivers to touch down on the private land he used last year, or if he wants to have them use the airport, where no permit is required.

Also, on Tuesday the Oregon State Aviation board will meet in Salem and decide as part of its monthly meeting, whether or not Sisters Eagle Airport should be listed on “Appendix M” — a list of state-recognized, privately owned, public-use airports. When that happens, the airport’s approved land uses will be transferred to the state’s control.

Currently, what happens at the Sisters Eagle Airport is managed by the city of Sisters. And even though skydiving is an approved recreational use in both state and city statutes and ordinances, SOS members worry that the Appendix M designation will hinder their efforts.

“As it is now, the city has the ability to limit some uses at the airport, even if they’re approved uses,” Hulbert said, noting the group has written a letter requesting the aviation board delay its vote. “Once Appendix M happens, the city would lose that ability, which is too bad. Local control is always good, every community should strive to keep control of its own facilities.”

For her part, Cara Rosier says that Appendix M is a nonissue. Regardless of whether the airport is listed or not, skydiving is an approved recreational use at Sisters Eagle Airport.

“There’s no entity of government that can control that,” she said.

Mitch Swecker, ODA director, agreed. He said that being listed on Appendix M won’t change anything for the airport, besides codifying its approved uses in state statute. It’s a somewhat obscure listing that most private-public airports in Oregon are already on.

“I’ve been with ODA for eight years and this is the first time I’ve had anyone ask to be listed,” he said, noting that he expects the airport will be added to the appendix. “The best and easiest way to get anything changed is to work with the airport and the airport owner. We’re not making anyone or stopping them from conducting these activities.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,

awest@bendbulletin.com

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